West Africa is currently the most volatile subregion of the continent, with most States immersed in various degrees of political, economic and humanitarian crises. The subregion is host to some 25,000 troops as a result of the presence of UN peacekeeping and peace-building missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Violations and abuses of human rights are the root causes of the various crises in the subregion. Such crises, especially armed conflict,when they flare up in one country have repercussions in others because of cross-border ethnic relations, a high level of migration in the region and the inter-related economies. Conflicts have also created added pressures due to the large flows of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) they have generated. There are also problems associated with cross-border involvement in conflicts and the presence of mercenaries from within and outside the region participating in conflicts. These diverse experiences underline the need for a long-term strategy aimed at addressing root causes of conflict while dealing in the short and medium term with its consequences. Arms, combatants, child soldiers, as well as HIV and AIDS and other epidemics, continue to spread across the region. Communities hosting refugees and returning migrants are over-burdened and government social services in many countries are on the verge of collapse.
The mandate of the West Africa Regional Office, expected to be operational in early 2008, is to help develop engagement strategies for countries of the region; cooperate with subregional intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations; and function as resource centre for country offices, human rights advisers and human rights components of peace operations deployed in the region. In this regard, OHCHR will in particular continue to work with the human rights component of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA).
The Regional Office will cover Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. Its work will be complementary to that of existing OHCHR presences in the region, namely the country office in Togo and the human rights components of peace missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
OHCHR will address issues relating to impunity and the rule of law, migration, trafficking in persons, economic, social and cultural rights, and integrating a rights-based approach into the policies and programmes of the UN Country Teams and other partners, including regional organizations.
In its initial phase, the Office will focus on increasing the capacity of the human rights components of peace missions and establishing cooperative relations with countries where OHCHR has no presence, including Benin, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde. As part of its development phase, the Office will identify relevant thematic priorities in consultation with Member States, national human rights institutions, NGOs and UN Country Teams in the region.
The Office will advocate for the development of strong national protection mechanisms, including national human rights institutions and civil society networks, and will assist States in this endeavour.
OHCHR will initiate discussions on key thematic issues, such as impunity, migration and trafficking in persons, and will encourage regional-level focus on issues of common concern by releasing reports and statements.
The Office will build partnerships to develop activities and programmes to address regional human rights challenges with other UN agencies, UN Country Teams, national institutions and regional organizations. The Office will also serve as a platform for sharing regional experience and best practices, particularly in the areas of impunity, poverty and discrimination.
OHCHR will advocate for treaty ratification, reporting and follow-up. It will also promote greater engagement with the special procedures through referral of individual complaints and support for mandate-holder visits. It will help develop appropriate mechanisms for treaty reporting and follow-up to recommendations by both special procedures and treaty bodies